Friday, January 06, 2023

The Fabelmans (2022)

 

I wish I had seen The Fabelmans (2022) before the end of the year, as it would have certainly ranked high on my Top 10 of 2022. 

Such a wonderful, deeply personal film from Steven Spielberg that encapsulates a coming of age tale based on his own life. 

Definitely worth the watch!


Saturday, December 31, 2022

Best of 2022 - From my perspective

You know the drill...

Below are my top 10 movies, albums and tracks of the year. 

As always, lots of stuff that I haven't seen or heard... Frankly, this is a year were music in particular was impacted by having less commutes. The minutes allocated to discovering new artists has been below par.

With regards to films, it has been a bit the same, more so because this year I took the time to revisit some of my favourites, while also getting acquainted with a few classics. 

I have a ton of movies that I want to watch but haven't had the chance, such as The Northman, Glass Onion and All Quiet on The Western Front.  

Having said that, pretty good year. Four or five of them are epic stuff.

MOVIES 

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Top Gun
Competencia Oficial
Triangle of Sadness
Banshees of Inisherin
Living
The Batman
Vengeance
Prey
Good luck to you, Leo Grande


ALBUMS

Foals - Life is Yours
Harry Styles - As It Was
Taylor Swift - Midnights
Arctic Monkeys - The Car
Joey Alexander - Origin
Terno Rei - Gêmeos
Håkan Broström Meets Carl Winther Trio - The Copenhagen Session
Avishai Cohen - Shifting Sands 
Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morales & The Big Steppers


TRACKS 

Foals - 2am
Arcade Fire - 
The Lightning II
Harry Styles - 
As It Was
Danny Ocean - 
Fuera del Mercado
One Republic - I Ain't Worried
Taylor Swift -
 Maroon 
Garrett Mahoney - 
Back Home
Dan Deacon, London Contemporary Orchestra & the Royal Scottish National Orchestra - 
Already Dead

Terno Rei -  Dias de Juventude

Hazel English - Summer Nights

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Home Alone (1990) - A trip down memory lane...

 


Today I took my girlfriend to go see Home Alone (1990) at Prince Charles Cinema in London. 

Carolina had never seen it before and - as a staple of my childhood and one of my favorite Christmas movies - I just had to show it to her. 

The screening was just before 4pm and - to my surprise - was nearly packed (with adults and children).

That alone truly added to the viewing, which was already special on its own as it evoked all sorts of nostalgia of a time I was very happy.

Thought about my Mom, Dad, growing up and taking further steps into my passion for cinema. It was also a stark reminder of just how much of a happy childhood I had.

Interestingly enough, I enjoyed a lot more watching it now than I did about 15, 20 or 25 years ago.

One of the best parts of today was getting to share this with Carolina, who not only was watching it for the first time, but it was also her first visit to the iconic Prince Charles Cinema.

Seemed to be a great debut, as she was laughing out loud and having a grand time. 

I can't say I was anxious with the fear of Carolina perhaps not enjoying it... despite all these years since i last saw Home Alone, I felt this cult classic enjoyed that precise status due to its habilty to pass the test of time. 

And now that I've watched it, I can confirm it has done so with striking colors.

As a classic film from the early 90s, (a love labor of the collaboration between John Hughes and Chris Columbus) it's impressive to see how it still stands as a comedy masterpiece, carried by two of the best villains ever on screen played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, rivaling with the ever charismatic and lovable Macaulay Culkin.

But we there's so much more to it... 

From the incredible John Williams soundtrack, to the supporting cast (Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, John Candy) and even the iconic opening credits design, the movie is mandatory viewing for everyone out there wanting to have a good time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Living (2022)


Keeping this very short and sweet, as I think its one of this year's mandatory viewings, which will speak for itself.

Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, Living (2022) - directed by Oliver Hermanus - is (as you probably figured out by now) one of my top 10 movies of 2022. 

Plenty of highlights, with some standouts including: 

- Bill Nighy, who commanded each scene with such nuanced and understated grace.

- The majestic soundtrack by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch.

- The adaptation of Kurosawa’s work, adjusted to London in the 50s and brought to life by Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay.

The latter kept me thinking about my Dad and how I miss him dearly. He was present throughout!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

"I have a case" scene - Philadelphia (1993)


It's a scene that has always led the way to leave me flooded with tears, but weirdly enough, I've experienced new things today that I haven't in the past. Thinking about it now, it was like I was able to look at each detail of this scene more carefully, picking up more nuanced elements on the camera movement, the body language, the cut between close-ups and wides, the whole cinematic language being used was just talking differently to me this time, that tears came out in places that they didn't use to before.

The moment in which Andrew Beckett, played by Tom Hanks, goes to Joe Miller's office, desperately seeking representation against an act of discrimination over his AIDS illness.

Jonathan Demme, a master of his craft, directed this scene superbly... offering some really intimate close-up shots to really deliver on emotions of frustration, fear, disappointment, and sadness.

The music, which subtlety echoes in the background, just enough to enhance the drama unfolding before our eyes, is a lovely detailed touch that elevates the scene.

Each beat given between shots is carefully executed to allow for moments of tension to grow, while the audience takes its time to look at the body language, and the space between both characters... particularly as it sets up an obvious reflection of the panic that AIDS caused in the early 90s, seen back then as an infectious deadly decease, with some deep association to the gay community, leading to a horrible social divide and a dangerous stigma that took years to repair.

Despite having seen this movie so many times, it's impossible for me to be indifferent.

Instead, as I proved to myself just now, I feel increasingly sad and outraged by each viewing.

Witnessing social injustice truly moves me to my core and here you have a perfect illustration of just how cold and passive the world could (and can) be.

The scene here on this particular YouTube clip ends just before one of my favourite acting moments of the movie when Beckett leaves the office and Demme goes for a slow close-up to the sound of Bruce Springsteen's beautifully moving and Oscar-winning song "Streets of Philadelphia".

This particular moment, alongside the iconic "opera scene" (where Hanks and Washington are rehearsing the Q&A as they listen to "La Mamma Morta", sung by the majestic Maria Callas), is my absolute standout moment in all of movie-making history.

In both scenes, Hanks' acting is absolutely unmatched, to the point that you forget there's any "craft" behind each moment.

I have never seen more commitment, done full-hardheartedly, than here.

If you haven't seen Philadelphia, please watch it. It may not resonate the same way it did with me (it sits on my top 5 of all time), but Hanks' performance is undeniably one of the greatest we've ever seen in our lifetime.


NOTE


Here's a clip with the rest of the scene I've mentioned.

(I loved it so much that I even got the same cap he has as a little memento of the movie and my appreciation for that city.)


Thursday, October 13, 2022

Val (2021)


I absolutely balled my eyes out during my flight back to London after watching the documentary Val (2021), a very intimate and powerful viewing about the life and career of Hollywood star Val Kilmer.

Kilmer had an inventive side to him that started to show very early on and manifested through the lens of his camera, which would be ever present at home and on set, like a trusty sidekick.

Hours of “home made behind the scenes” footage were gathered over the years, bringing this documentary to life by revealing a very beautiful and raw look into the heart and mind of one of the most dedicated and popular actors of his generation.

Assembled and stitched together by the narrating voice of his son, Jack, the documentary takes us on a journey that begins by showing Val’s first signs of artistry at a very young age alongside his siblings, writing and staging amateur plays, recording goofball skits and toying with reality and the abstract via his vivid imagination.

Those early events would eventually lead him to continue developing his artistic vein and take him to Julliard, arguably the most renowned theater school in the world.

By that point suffering from personal tragedy, it was through acting that Kilmer would begin to try and heal his heart, later understanding that it would never be fully healed, but ready to love and embrace other challenges nevertheless.

During that process, Kilmer would reach many places - both physically and emotionally - bringing him much joy and influence over his continued evolution into the spiritual kind human being that he became so well-known to his family and friends.

Those of us on the "outside", however, didn’t really know much about Kilmer despite seeing him in some of the biggest blockbusters in years.

Much of his private life was kept… well… private! 

Even having met his wife - a fellow actor - on set, seemed somehow a “discreet” affair.

Many roles allowed him to travel through a plethora of characters and their lives, while setting him the opportunity to work with some of his heroes and even - as indicated before - meeting the mother of his children.

Like any story though, there were plenty of highs and lows, a lot of which really takes us to places where you get to relate or feel a tremendous amount of empathy, as Kilmer provokes you to undergo through some of the most intimate emotions. The need for love, the desire to live passionately, elevated by his fear of death, the struggles to keep balance within your family after loss or deceit, the frustrations of being misunderstood over your own personal passions...

All of which gets examined intimately, as we observe this eccentric, loving and gifted actor reveal a candid side that has been captured on camera and put together through collages like in a scrap book.

An absolute must see documentary, regardless of your own personal connection with the rebel, the entertaining, the mischievous, the only... Val Kilmer!

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Blonde (2022)


Blonde (2022) is a fictionalized biopic of American cultural icon Marilyn Monroe, played by Cuban actor Ana de Armas.

Based on a novel of the same name, the movie - which was surrounded with tremendous hype since its announcement - lives in a permanent state of horror, like taking us into a nightmare that we just can't wake up from.

In fact, after watching it, it's no wonder to me that the film received an array of bad reviews, with viral posts even suggesting that many viewers across the globe had given up watching after the first twenty minutes.

Before the movie came out, people were very curious to see it, after all, its subject is one of the biggest stars of our time.

With de Armas being cast in the role, it drew even more attention, particularly from viewers like me who were keen to see how she would handle a role of such magnitude.

Given that she had led a career in Hollywood somewhat sheltered from leading roles, to me, she had yet to prove herself and this was certainly her biggest opportunity to do so.

So she did!

Despite the movie's polarizing reviews, one thing seemed to draw universal consensus: Ana de Armas delivered a magnetic performance.

The Cuban actor definitely looked the part!


With make-up, hair, costume design on point and, more importantly, the acting, it really felt like Marilyn Monroe was alive on our screens. Even the accent, which was a point of concern for many, didn't deter the audience from enjoying her performance.

That said, despite being able to acknowledge de Armas' valiant efforts, I came out feeling like I had only seen a one dimensional presentation. 
 
Don't get me wrong, this observation has more to do with how the character was laid out in the script, rather than her ability - for which she deserves plenty of praise - but I wish I had seen more of this character.

See... Monroe's life, as tragic as it may have been, seemed to be escalated to higher levels just for the sake of shocking the audience.

The string of horrifying sequences, the brutally invasive close-ups ("a la" Darren Aronofsky in Requiem for a Dream), the violence - both physical and psychological - was at points too much to handle, offering just one side of a very extremely complex and layered personality. 

Sure, that was the path that the director, Andrew Dominik, decided to embark on... but I found that (and more) very questionable.

Dominik certainly made some bold decisions... Some of them work, others are interesting, but for the most part they fail to deliver any meaningful direction to a story that tries too hard to deliver punches in the gut. Where it often tries to address a web of problems, such as the abuse of power and the sexual exploitation of women, it actually ends up being a part of it.

If anything, the movie seems to continue building on excesses that have no place in a cinema room, regardless if you are attempting to be a provocative art house project.

There needs to be a line drawn, particularly when exploring the life of an iconic and troubled character who isn't here to tell her side of the story. That not being the case, it truly feels like exploitive work from Dominik, who seemed to fail grasping the weight of the subject matter.

Not all was bad, as there were plenty of refreshing scenes done creatively, with a switch between aspect ratio and colour grading, often dipping into a beautiful black and white picture. Along the way there are some outstanding transitions that look astonishing on the big screen.

Add to that a beautiful, but often tense and harrowing soundtrack from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and you end up getting some good marks to give out...

The highest naturally going to de Armas, who played a tortured soul, who's heart and mind had been plagued mostly by men who abused her throughout her life.

Monroe coveted love, appreciation and approval from these abusive figures, pointing out just how frail she was as someone who dreamt of having a male role model, clearly establishing her as someone who was broken with severe "daddy" issues.

While I understand that this, and other painfully intimate details, are a quintessential part of Monroe's life, it all felt very gratuitous at points - including the various nude scenes - during the exceedingly long run-time of 2h46m - that at a certain point had me doubting its artistic value.

In a nutshell, Marilyn Monroe didn't get the movie she well deserved. Instead, she got a horror show that depicted her as an inanimate object living in a man's world, stripped of any shed of humanity and dignity. 



Sunday, June 26, 2022

"Superman in Concert"


 
Last night I finally went to see Superman in Concert, in which the London Symphonic Orchestra played the iconic John Williams soundtrack, as the 1978 movie played on the big screen, purposely placed at the majestic Royal Albert Hall in London. 


It’s a movie that I have seen hundreds of times as a young kid and in my adolescent years, but never did I have the opportunity to see it in the big screen... let alone with the music being played live. 

Even before the time I saw a man fly on my TV screen, I was already enamoured with Superman, thanks to the classic cartoons of “Up, Up and away” fame, which ultimately turned out to be my favourite comic book and most likely the ultimate fictional reference in my life.

I can't quite recall how I was first introduced to the character or the cartoons themselves, but I’m pretty sure my Dad had something to do with it, even if just by following the logic that it was in his house that on early mornings I would take up the living room and emulate everything I saw on TV, including stretching out both my arms as I pretended to fly (even at one point donning the costume for that effect). 

That’s why, for yesterday's special evening, I decided to take my Dad along with me, by wearing his watch and a double breasted blazer I inherited from him. I should have brought a tie too (Dad was of the opinion that a man should always look his best and wear a tie), but that detail only occurred to me later. 

As cheesy as it may sound, I somehow felt his presence as I rewatched one of my all-time favourites, this time as an adult.

Last night also provided me the chance to introduce Richard Donner’s timeless classic to my girlfriend, who had patiently (and I mean this!) heard me talk about the character and watched several videos about Superman, Christopher Reeve or the making of the movie.

I was confident she would embark on this journey with an open mind and an open heart...

The movie, being a big product of the late 70's, had various elements that already piqued her interest. From the star-studded cast (including the likes of Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman), the iconic soundtrack (with the added bonus of being played live), the Mario Puzo (of The Godfather fame) writing involvement, the dominant presence of Reeve's legacy and the production value of a big-budget movie for that time.

Most of all, I felt that being introduced to something that I deeply cared about had already made the evening special before it even began. 


Sure enough, as I flew through memory lane, I learned new things and caught fresh details that I had not noticed or understood before during my younger days of watching that run-down BETA tape (also known as Betamax).

Feeling privileged to have such an opportunity, with good seats at such a cultural staple and surrounded by many, who like me, are massive fans of the movie and comic books (many in attendance came with some sort of Superman merch, some even in full costume) it made this night one for the ages. 

 


From the opening credits right til the very last frame, I was gripped to my seat and fully aware that a dream of mine - no matter how small or silly it may sound - had been fulfilled in that moment.

Maybe that same awareness was the trigger that made me emotional several times, in moments that I had not been emotional before.

I don't know. 

All I can say is that I felt that room feeling incredibly grateful and hoping to one day share this movie with kids of my own.

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Boiling Point (2021)



Had I seen Boiling Point (2021) before the end of the year and it would be easily on my top 10 of 2021. 

Absolutely loved it. 

Great execution, fantastic performances - led by an incredible Stephen Graham and Vinette Robinson, "simple" yet gripping narrative. 

Absolutely loved it!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Best of 2021 - From my perspective

Here's this year's top 10 movies, albums and tracks of 2021. 

 As ever, this list is naturally limited to what I've seen and heard. 

For instance, there's plenty of films that I haven't been able to see, therefore they were not in the running. Licorice Pizza, C'Mon C'Mon, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Hand of God, Boiling Point are just a few...

But just so everyone knows... there are quite a few that are many people's favorites that I've decided to have off the list: Belfast, Don't Look Up, Spencer, No Time to Die, Tick Tick... Boom!, The French Dispatch and Suicide Squad are just a few. Some almost made the cut, while others were just disappointing given the expectations.

MOVIES

Spider-Man: No way home
West Side Story
Dune
Pig
Green Knight
Judas and The Black Messiah
King Richard
The Last Duel
The Power of The Dog
Drive My Car

ALBUMS

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo de Augustine - A Beginner's Mind
Sam Fender - Seventeen Going Under
Little Smiz - Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert
Tyler, The Creator - Call Me If You Get Lost
Olivia Rodrigo - Sour
Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah - New Fragility
Sonic Silk - An Evening with Silk Sonic
J. Cole - Off Season
Arlo Parks - Collapsed in Sunbeams
Doja Cat - Planet Her

TRACKS

Sam Fender - Dying Light
Garrett Mahoney - Italics
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo de Augustine - Back to Oz
Jose Gonzalez - El Invento
Kings of Convenience - Rocky Trail
Jorja Smith - Burn
Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah - Innocent Weight
Future Islands - Peach
Justin Bieber - Peaches (feat. Daniel Ceasar & Giveon)
Kanye West - Junya

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Barry Harris 1929 - 2021




Really sad to hear about the passing of Jazz veteran Barry Harris at the age of 91 on Thursday, December 8th. 

Harris, an accomplished jazz pianist, had played with legendary musicians such as Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, among many others. 

Grounded in the sounds of bebop, Harris would eventually be featured in 2000 on a documentary about his career named Barry Harris - Spirit of Bebop.

Having established himself as one of the greats, it's no surprise that Harris would be awarded in 2000 in the American Jazz Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievements & Contributions to the World of Jazz, a milestone that serves to establish his legacy within the cultural scene...

Being such a prominent name in the music scene, I feel very fortunate to have had the chance see him perform live back in 2011, after I was given three tickets to attend his gig at the Pizza Express Jazz venue in London.

The opportunity came after Portuguese jazz critic Jose Duarte had to give away his tickets due to unpredictable circumstances that made it difficult for him and his family to travel into the UK. 

Gutted for not attending, particularly as as he was making the trip just to see legendary jazz pianist, Jose Duarte was advised by my Dad to pass on the tickets to me as to not have them go to waste. 

Dad called me and asked if i was keen and went on to say that he had hired Harris to play in Portugal many years ago, while also adding that this was a chance of a lifetime as he was likely going to stop touring in Europe due to his condition. 

I must confess I knew nothing about Harris - which likely prompted by Dad to be upset at me - but felt  very flattered and privileged for the opportunity. I took those tickets and invited two friends of mine from CNN to attend it with me. 

The gig, as you would expect from such an icon, was superb. Playing in front of a sold out venue, I  recall feeling his presence in the room and within each note that he played, despite the constrictions that came along his age. Even addressing the audience seemed like a hard task... but not when he was hitting those notes on the piano. That looked and sounded effortless. 

At the end of the gig i approached Barry and introduced myself. Said my Father was Duarte Mendonca, who organised Estoril Jazz in Portugal. Instantly memories started flooding in and we ended up sitting down and having a chat about those days in Portugal. By the time we start wrapping up the conversation, I ask if he doesn't mind taking a picture so i could show it to Dad. Harris greeted my request with a smile on his face and boom. Picture taken. What a moment! 


I don't remember exactly what went down after that, but I probably must have spoken to my Dad the following day, telling him all about the gig, my chat and the picture - which I would have eventually send via email to him. 

To my surprise, that same picture would be printed in a decent size and placed on my Dad's work desk... 



More surprisingly though, the picture would also be featured in the jazz program for the following year's festival.



I was always incredibly proud of that, as i knew Dad was too. In same ways was just another confirmation that his love for music was living through me and that gave him a sense of mission that had been completed...

I guess in many ways, this is as much of a tribute to Barry Harris, as it is to my Dad...

May both reacquaint themselves again through their love of music... Maybe Dad will tell him all about the picture he had in his office...

Friday, December 03, 2021

Cast Your Fate To The Wind


Fun fact: this was the song by Vince Guaraldi that prompted Peanuts producer to approach Guaraldi to compose the soundtrack for the unreleased 1963 documentary A boy named Charlie Brown. It was there that the later designated theme song Linus and Lucy would come to fruition.

 

The song Cast Your Fate To The Wind, before triggering an epic stream of music for the Peanuts cartoons, was a hit on its own.  

 It won the 1963 Grammy for best original jazz composition. It was taken from the 1962 album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, which drew inspiration and played tribute to the music from the 1959 Brazilian / French / Italian production Black Orpheus, containing some of Brazil’s bossa nova royalty in its soundtrack.

Monday, November 29, 2021

"A Great Day in Olhāo" - 07.09.21

 
Soon after my Dad’s passing in August, the family started making plans to bring over his ashes to the family tomb in Olhāo, so that we could place him together with his Mother, with whom he always said he wanted to be "reunited" after she passed away at a very young age. Dad was 23 at the time and that life event had a profound effect on him, given their special bond.

As we started to make plans, I asked about his life in the Algarve.


Even though Dad was born in Lisbon, his side of the family was based in Olhāo where he lived for several years.


I was told Dad lived in this big house, now abandoned and covered in murals, which made it hard to miss. On top of that its architectural style made it standout and a well-known spot in the city.


I shared the screengrab with my two brothers who immediately recognized the place. 


“We drive past it all the time,” said my brother Alex.


Olhāo is right next door to Tavira where my Dad's side of the family has spent their holidays over many years, so naturally, bumping into that place was to be expected.


It's September and I'm days away from going to Tavira, where I decided to take a morning to go on a road trip with my girlfriend, where we would first go to the house and then to the cemetery where my Dad’s family is at. 


In the 25/30 minute drive from Tavira, I could feel some anxiety building up. I felt like we were off to an adventure, searching for fragments of my Dad’s past, which were soon to be part of my own story. 


As we arrived, we could see the house from a distance. It stood out in such a way, that it felt like it didn’t belong! 


We parked the car and took a moment to look at it before crossing the road and walking all the way around, looking at each detail and admiring every little corner. We took particular notice of the mural of a witch, which the "pointed roof" took the shape of her hat. 



We looked for an entrance, but most of it was blocked, only a small entrance off the side in which you would need to crawl under. I didn’t have the courage to do so, as it didn’t feel safe. I started taking pictures, both wides and close ups.





I handed over my phone to my girlfriend and asked her to take a couple of stills of me standing on the front and back of the house. It all felt surreal.

 


I saw a mailwoman speaking to another lady and approached them to ask if they were locals and knew anything about the house.


The mailwoman says she is from somewhere else (Faro, perhaps?), but the other lady instantly says that despite not being originally from the area, she has lived there long enough that she can help. 


I asked her about the house and she says that it is known as “Chalet Victoria”, owned by the wealthy family "Saias" for many years, before it was sold to the city hall. But before any of that happened, it used to be the property of businessman José Guerreiro Mendonça, my great-grandfather, who had purchased the place from an Italian emigrant. There he lived with his family, including his son Francisco Xavier Mendonça (my Grandfather), both of which worked for the national bank (Banco de Portugal) until the financial crash happened and they went bankrupt. 


As a consequence, they had no choice but to sell the house.


We were in awe of this story, delivered with a great level of detail, to the extent where she almost sounded like the local historian.


As we thanked her and said our goodbyes, Carolina pulled out her phone and went on Google to look the story up. Everything checked out. 


We made our way to the cemetery to pay a visit to the family tomb and wrap up our morning.

 

 
 

 

Moments later, I call my stepmother to tell her about our morning and how everything we heard matched her version of the story except for one thing. She believed the house was rented, but apparently our family owned it and after selling it due to the crash, they lived in it as tenants for a few more years before moving to Cascais.

 

Cascais, I was told, was already a very dear place to my Dad’s family and due to their long history and affection with the small village on the coast of Portugal, my Dad would end up there as an adult,  building his house, starting his involvement with the jazz festivals and spending his days there until his passing. 


But his story begins in Olhāo, at a place unknown to me until now.


Filling in those gaps and learning more about his life made me somehow closer to him and offered me a physical and spiritual place that I can come and visit whenever I’m down at the Algarve. It also provided me with memories that I certainly won’t forget, tangled with this unfamiliar sense of adventure and discovery.

It felt like a great day, that I couldn’t help myself but make the headline of this post “A Great Day in Olhāo”, after the iconic Esquire picture “A Great Day in Harlem”, taken by Art Kane. 

That picture, which features some of the greatest jazz musicians of that time, has its own story with Dad... a story that like this one, I will continue to cherish with all my heart and to remember each time I go back to my Dad's place, as it continues to back hanged on his wall.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Stephen Sondheim 1930 - 2021

 

On Friday we lost one of the most musically gifted minds in showbusiness, Mr. Stephen Sondheim.

An all-time great, Sondheim's creative, insightful and sensitive soul created a body of work that will long live throughout history.
 
 
 
Only a few years ago was I awaken to his great collection of classics, due to my recently gained interest in the field. 

I say recently because it took me years before I started liking musicals, which may come as a shocker to some given my interest in music, cinema and theatre.

Sure, growing up I had watched classics like My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965), but they never really stucked with me.

It was only The Blues Brothers (1980), All That Jazz (1979) and later on Moulin Rouge (2001) that I loved... So, It would be fair to say that I felt a certain lack of interest in watching anything within the genre.

It was only after coming to London and seeing them on stage that I started to become infactuated with the musical genre.

Since then, I've seen a variety of musicals such as The Lion King, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Waitress, Book of Mormon, Hamilton, among others... Within the many I've seen, two of Stephen Sondheim's masterpieces took my breathe away: West Side Story (which I only saw on TV during the pandemic) and Company (appropriatly I saw it at the Sondheim Theatre in London just a few seats away from Sir Ian McKellen).

West Side Story naturally became an instant classic in my eyes, due to the great pairing between Sondheim's lyrics and Leonard Bernstein's music... But it was Company that would later have a resounding effect in my life.
 
 
 
In many ways, its main character, Bobby, was someone that I could relate to, particularly when we reach the tune Being Alive, Sodheim's best song in my humble opinion.

I've heard many different renditions of that song.... From Neil Patrick Harris to Raul Esparza... even Adam Driver took a crack at it in Noah Baumbach's Marrige Story (2019)... All of them great, but one standsout the most... and that's Dean Jones. 
 
It's a version that I've shared and talked about many times [1] [2]... and what better time and reason to share it again than as a way to celebrate Mr Sondheim's legacy.
 
 
 
As I draw this post to an end, I would would also like take this opportunity to do two last things:

Remind those in London that Sunday in the park with George, another of Sondheim's great works, is hopefully coming to London in 2022, after it was cancelled due to the pandemic. This particular reannactment will star Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in the leading roles.

And finally, to encourage everyone to watch this celebration of Sondheim's 90th birthday, Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration.
 
 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

"ROBIN Test footage scene"


Jamie Costa does the best Robin Williams impersonation.

Just outstanding stuff!

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

No Time To Die (2021)

 

No Time to Die (2021) has finally been released in the cinemas, after consecutive delays due to the pandemic.

 

It was worth the wait!

 

Sure, it may not be quite at the same level as Casino Royale (2006) or Skyfall (2012), but nonetheless a much needed upgrade from the disappointing Spectre (2015).

 

But more than its ability to bounce back from their latest entry, it served as a great swan song for both James Bond and Daniel Craig in this series.

 

For over 15 years and across five movies, we’ve been able to witness something which we haven’t seen before: Bond’s character arc.


Since 2006, we have had a level of continuity across all motion pictures which  felt like uncharted territory. Whereas other films before Craig seemed to always present Bond as a finished product, with Craig we saw a development of the character, as well as the world he lives in.


In the first film, we see a depiction of a very young and raw James Bond as he made his mark with MI6. He falls in love and gets betrayed and heartbroken, thus explaining the beginning of his trauma and his difficulty to trust people.


The narrative serves as a catalyst for the sophomore entry Quantum of Solace (2008), where we see him on edge and on a quest for vengeance.

 

“Shoot first, ask questions later”, seemed to be his motto…

 

Some people didn’t like this as it seemed the most recurrent criticism to the sequel in Craig’s Bond era. Bond came off as brute, putting on his muscle and showing very little elegance and class. That, however, feels to me like it was the intention… The point was to show a very fragile Bond in the making, as he processed all these emotions through his drive in getting back at the people that led to the death of the love of his love.

 

Skyfall goes on to explore Bond’s character, by offering us glimpses of his past, while also setting up Spectre, the evil organization behind the main occurrences in previous films. This would of course be the subject of the fourth film of the series, one that ended up being the most disappointing given storyline, the historical meaning behind it, the cast and the success of Skyfall setting it up. 

 

Overall, the expectation was quite high and it failed miserably. You can’t help but wonder how they messed it up so bad, when there was so much juice to squeeze out of it.

 

And then we have No Time to Die.

 

As I started by saying, it is a large improvement over its predecessor, bringing back full circle the character development we’ve been seeing over the years.

 

The emotional depth on this latest and final entry was something that had never reached this kind of level, prompting actress Léa Seydoux to say that she even cried when watching it. Seydoux, back for her second film in the Bond saga, was at the centre of No Time to Die – a film that seemed to bring more women to the spotlight. Ana de Armas’ scene in Cuba was terrific and left audiences asking for more, while Lashana Lynch iteration of the “new 007” showed us she could have easily carried the movie by herself.

 

Need to also mention Ralph Fiennes’ take on M, which for the first time since he took on the role, put his acting skills on display and Jeremy Wright as Felix Leiter, who delivered one of the most important scenes in the film.

 

On top of great character development, good addition of characters and acting, the 25TH Bond film delivers on all the elements that have made the franchise so popular.

 

Beautiful scenery (Italy never looked as good like their display of Maratea), great sense of style (I want to buy the entire Bond wardrobe, but the tan suit standout)), classic one liners (some of them good, others not so much), camp moments, gadgets, chase scenes, plenty of action and - to my surprise - a good theme song from Billie Eilish.

 

Oh, and lots of nods to the Bond movie legacy and his writer, Ian Fleming.

 

But it came with its flaws… many flaws!

 

Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin was – alongside Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld – a total dud.

 

Aside from the opening act, the main antagonist never really posed a threat, played into all the silly cliches and just overall fell flat. Some of the dialogues were painful to witness, from his motivation to his exchanges with Bond.

 

There were plenty of incoherent scenes which prompted me to think that we were going down the same “silly” route as the older movies. Specifically where the villain has the upper hand but gives that away in the name of stupidity. Quite honestly, it’s hard not to react as I find these insulting to an audience member… even if we are asked to suspend our disbelief.

 

“Before I kill you Mr. Bond… let me tell you all about my secret plan” – It wasn’t quite this, but it felt like it at points!

 

There were other small moments… lines that didn’t work, scenes that seemed to oddly escalate or others that could have used better acting direction.

 

Oh, and a word on the duration. There was absolutely no need for it to be this long. Could have easily shaved 20 to 30 minutes.

 

I just wished the movie was just a little bit more... tidier.


(See what I did there?)


Nonetheless, despite this small wave of criticism,  it still wasn’t enough to detract us from a great send off to both Bond and Daniel Craig as they deliver their final and very emotional goodbye to the big screens.

 

Looking forward to seeing where producers will take the character next. 

 

What sort of adventures will he embark on? 

 

How will they make the new series standout?

 

But more importantly, who will take on the mantle of the most iconic spy ever to grace our screens…

 

... the one and only:

 

Bond…

 

James Bond.

 

(Please forgive me for this one)